‘What Is Happening to Me?’
“It seemed like I woke up one day and everything had changed. I was a different person in a different body.”—Sam.
WHAT is adolescence? Simply stated, it is the stage of life between childhood and adulthood. It is a time in which you undergo dramatic changes—physically, emotionally, and even socially. In one sense, entry into adolescence is exciting. After all, it means that you are on your way to becoming an adult. On the other hand, new feelings begin to emerge during this phase of life, and some of them can be confusing—even frightening.
However, you need not dread adolescence. True, it has its share of anguish. But it also provides a wonderful opportunity for you to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. Let us see how—first by analyzing some of the challenges that adolescents face.
The Onset of Puberty
During adolescence, changes take place in your body to prepare you for sexual reproduction. This process, called puberty, takes years to complete, and it affects more than just the development of your reproductive organs, as we will see.
Girls usually start puberty between ages 10 and 12, while many boys begin between 12 and 14. These are just averages, though. According to The New Teenage Body Book, “each person has his or her own special biological time clock that dictates when the various changes of puberty will occur.” It adds: “There is a very wide range of normal.” So there is nothing wrong with you if you begin puberty before—or after—your peers.
Whenever it begins, puberty can affect how you look, how you feel, and how you view the world around you. Consider some of the fascinating yet challenging aspects of this unique stage of life.
‘What’s Happening to My Body?’
Puberty begins with an increase in hormone levels, notably of estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. Hormonal changes are partially responsible for the seemingly miraculous physical transformation that follows. In fact, after puberty begins, your body grows at its fastest rate since infancy.
At this time your reproductive organs start to mature, but that is only one facet of physical development. You may also experience a rapid increase in height, commonly called a growth spurt. While as a child you might have grown about two inches [5 cm] each year, it would not be unusual for you to grow at twice that rate during the growth spurt of puberty.
Throughout this time, to some extent you might feel physically awkward. This is normal. Remember, different parts of your body may be growing at different rates. A degree of clumsiness can result. But be patient—you are not doomed to a lifetime of being accident-prone. The physical awkwardness of adolescence will pass.
During puberty girls begin having a menstrual period, which is a monthly discharge of blood, secretions, and tissue debris from the uterus.* The menstrual period is usually accompanied by cramps as well as a drop in hormone levels. Since this has both physical and emotional effects, the onset of menstruation can be quite startling. “All of a sudden, I had this whole new experience to deal with,” recalls Teresa, who is now 17 years old. “It messed up my emotions, and it hurt. And it came every month!”
There is no need to be frightened when you begin having your menstrual periods. After all, it is an indication that your body is functioning normally. In time, you will learn how to cope with the unpleasant aspects of your period. Some, for example, find that regular exercise decreases painful cramps. But everyone is different. You may discover that you drastically need to reduce physical activity during your period. Learn to “listen” to your body and give it what it needs.
During adolescence, both girls and boys become increasingly conscious of their appearance. “That’s the point in time I really started noticing—and caring—about how other people thought I looked,” confides Teresa. “And I find that I am still frustrated with my appearance most of the time,” she continues. “My hair won’t cooperate, my clothes don’t fit right, and I can’t even seem to find clothes that I like!”
Your body may betray you in other ways as well. For example, your sweat glands become more active during puberty, which might make you perspire more. Bathing or showering regularly, as well as making sure that your clothing is freshly laundered, can help you to control body odor. So can using a deodorant or an antiperspirant.
Also during puberty the oil glands in your skin become more active, which can result in pimples and acne. “I always seem to have a pimple attack just when I want to look my best,” laments a girl named Ann. “Is it my imagination or do pimples have a sort of sixth sense about when they’re most unwanted?” Acne has presented a problem for Teresa as well. “It makes me feel ugly and self-conscious,” she says, “because when people look at me, I think that’s what they are looking at!”
Of course, boys can be affected by skin problems too. In fact, some experts say that boys are even more susceptible than girls. Whether you are a young man or a young woman, you can benefit by washing the oily areas of your body regularly, including your face, neck, shoulders, back, and chest. In addition, frequently shampooing your hair can help prevent oils from spreading to your skin. Also, there are products available that are designed to fight acne and pimples. “My parents helped me to find cleansers and topical ointments,” Teresa says. “They also helped me not to eat a lot of junk food. When I don’t eat junk food and I do drink a lot of water, my acne pretty much goes away.”
Another physical change, which affects boys in particular, has to do with the voice. Your vocal cords will likely thicken and lengthen during puberty, resulting in a gradual deepening of your voice. For Bill, this occurred without his even noticing it. “I didn’t realize that my voice had changed,” he says, “except that people stopped thinking I was my mom or my sister when I answered the phone.”
Sometimes a voice that is in the process of changing tends to crack—to shift suddenly from a low pitch to a high one. “It was the most embarrassing thing,” says Tyrone, looking back on his youth. “Anytime I got nervous and excited, that’s when it would happen. I tried not to get too emotional, but of course I did.” Tyrone adds, “After a year or maybe it was two years, it stopped happening.” If this is happening to you, do not despair! Your voice too will soon settle into its new, deeper range.
‘Why Do I Feel This Way?’
It is not unusual for adolescents to experience a wide range of painful emotions. For example, you may find that you and your best childhood friends have started to drift apart. Not that there was a major falling out. Perhaps you just have little in common with each other. Even your parents—to whom you once ran for comfort and security—might suddenly seem old-fashioned and unapproachable.
All of this can leave a teen feeling socially isolated. “Some researchers have argued that loneliness is experienced more frequently and more intensely in adolescence than in either childhood or adulthood,” says one reference work. Fearing that others will view you as strange, you might tend to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself. Or perhaps you are reluctant to reach out to others, feeling deep down that no one would really want you as a friend.
Most adolescents go through periods of loneliness, and so do many adults. The important thing to keep in mind is that, in time, these feelings can pass.* Remember, because you are an adolescent, virtually everything about you is changing. Your view of life, of others, and even of yourself is in a constant state of flux. Indeed, the person you see in the mirror might, at times, seem like a total stranger to you! You may feel as did Steve, 17, who admits, “It’s very difficult to say you know yourself when your self is changing so rapidly.”
One of the best ways to counteract loneliness is to reach out to others. This might mean getting to know others who are not part of your peer group. Are there any older ones you know who could use a friendly visit? Could you do chores for them, especially if they are in need of assistance? The Bible encourages all—youths and adults—to “widen out” in their affection for others. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13) Doing so can open up wonderful opportunities.
The Bible passage quoted above is just one of many principles that have helped Christian youths to cope with the challenges of adolescence. As you read the next article, consider how God’s Word can have a powerful influence on your life as you grow toward adulthood.
At first, menstrual periods may occur more often or less often than once a month. The amount of flow can vary widely too. None of these situations should cause you alarm. However, irregular periods for a year or two might indicate the need to consult a doctor.
If loneliness is chronic or if you are harboring thoughts of suicide, you should seek help. Without delay, speak to your parents or to a mature adult in whom you can confide.
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Parents Aren’t Perfect
“As a kid, I thought my parents were perfect. Somehow, when I became a teenager, they seemed to get, well, less smart. What I mean is that I realized my parents aren’t perfect, and this was disconcerting. Unfortunately, this realization caused me to question their thinking and judgment. Through hard-learned lessons, though, I have regained my full respect for them. No, they’re not perfect, but they’re often right. And even if they aren’t right, they’re still my parents. We are gradually becoming more like friends, which is I guess what usually happens with kids and their parents.”—Teresa, 17.
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Many youths have forged close bonds of friendship with older ones